Traditional Christmas movies showcase St. Nicholas as a generically sweet, generous fellow with a belly filled with jelly and the gentle disposition of a giant stuffed panda.
Popular Santa Claus movies such as "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Santa Claus -- The Movie" perpetuate the pop-culture image of a highly industrious bearded saint who dispenses Christmas spirit, delivers toys on time and treats his reindeer like family pets.
But then, there are those other Santa movies. You know the ones, featuring alternate, even subversive views of the beloved holiday icon.
Some are naughty -- ranging from mildly frightening to downright homicidal. And some are nice -- ranging from paternalistically caring to sweetly ineffectual.
So check out our list. If you have other alt. Santa movies to share, send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Bad Santa" (2003) -- He's really, really bad in Terry Zwigoff's raunchy, bold black comedy about a con artist (Billy Bob Thornton) and his partner (Tony Cox) who every year get shopping mall jobs as Santa and his elf so they can circumvent security systems and loot the stores. When bad Santa begins to sympathize with a bullied kid (Brett Kelly), could this mean he has a heart? Park your PC standards at the door for this one, incidentally, the late John Ritter's last movie.
"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (2010) -- Kids are missing. Butchered reindeer carcasses line the snowy landscape. Weird stuff happens in Finland when American excavators discover the real Santa Claus imprisoned in a chunk of ice deep below the Arctic. When he thaws out, this murderous St. Nick doesn't really care about that naughty or nice thing. Here, kids walk around with their own firearms, very convenient for when they confront hordes of naked, homicidal elves.
"One Magic Christmas" (1985) -- You've got to be kidding. Santa Claus (Jan Rubes) strong-arms a distraught mother (Mary Steenburgen) into believing in Christmas by drowning her family in a horrible accident. Apparently Santa plays hardball when it comes to women who wish they were never born. An ill-conceived homage to Frank Capra's classic "It's a Wonderful Life," this time with Harry Dean Stanton as the angel.
"Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984) -- Charles Sellier Jr.'s horror tale is the most notorious of the mad-slasher Santa movies popular during the 1980s (when "Friday the 13th" became the decade's most influential film). The movie spawned four sequels and offended so many groups (such as the PTA) that TriStar Pictures pulled the film. Here, an orphan who witnesses a Santa-suit-clad man kill his parents, grows up to don his slay apparel. (The best holiday slasher film remains "Black Christmas," directed by Bob "A Christmas Story" Clark!)
"A Christmas Story" (1983) -- No list of twisted Santa tales would be complete without this holiday classic's depiction of the late Jeff Gillen's rude and scary shopping mall St. Nick who can't wait for quitting time, so he treats long lines of anxious children like cattle, prodding them along with a combination of sarcasm and resentment. It's still freakishly hilarious.
"The Santa Clause" (1994) -- Tim Allen kills Santa? On Christmas Eve? Yes, he does, but it's an accident, so it's sort of OK. According to cosmic rules, Allen must inherit Santa's identity (and girth) and take the red one's place by delivering toys with the help of his own son. A bizarre premise gives way to a popular success (thanks to Allen's charm) that spawned "Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause" and "Santa Clause: The Escape Clause."
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993) -- Santa may be sweet, but here he appears in a supporting role as a crime victim in Tim Burton's stop-action animated cult musical composed (and sung) by longtime collaborator Danny Elfman. Scary Jack Skellington usurps Christmas by dispatching three minions to kidnap Santa and turn him over to the evil Oogie Boogie. Until Jack, like the Grinch, has a change of heart in this whimsical and fantastic motion picture.
"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (1964) -- It's the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" of Santa movies! This ultra-low-budget production shows what happens when the Martians kidnap jolly old St. Nick (John Call) and two Earth kids, then whisk them off to the Red Planet. (The planet was no doubt red with embarrassment for hosting this cheezy, badly acted, terribly produced and laughably written project, which introduced the film world to future movie sexpot Pia Zadora at the age of 10.)
"Arthur Christmas" (2011) -- In this engaging animated 3-D fantasy, Santa (Jim Broadbent) has apparently had enough of checking his list twice every year and decided to semi-retire. Because his toy delivery operation is run with military precision (his sleigh now resembles the USS Enterprise), it falls to his disciplined, older son Steve (Hugh Laurie) to take over things. But who would make a better next generation Santa? Steve or his gangly, dreamer brother Arthur (James McAvoy)?
"Rise of the Guardians" (2010) -- This animated fantasy envisions Alec Baldwin's Santa Claus character as a holiday version of the Avengers, a superhero called upon to battle the forces of darkness -- the evil and aptly named Pitch. This Santa goes full Rambo as he joins Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and the Easter Bunny to catch Pitch.